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Alfred University to use $1.25 million in grant funding, software for renewable engineering training program

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The McMahon Engineering Building at Alfred University, shown above, will house equipment used to train students on the use and maintenance of electrical power grid systems. The equipment will be purchased with funds from a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant recently awarded to the University

From Alfred University,

ALFRED, NY – Alfred University has been awarded a $466,853 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) which will support student internships and fund a program that provides short course training for renewable energy engineering students and workers in the electric utilities field. The University has also received a donation from GE Digital of $786,000 in grid planning and operations software to support the NYSERDA-funded project.

The program—to which the University will provide $117,000 of in-kind/cost share funding—will benefit students in the University’s Renewable Energy Engineering and Electric Engineering programs by providing them with access to state-of-the-art equipment and training to prepare them for jobs in the growing renewable energy industry.

David Gottfried, deputy director for Alfred University’s Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) said a portion of the NYSERDA workforce training grant will be used to purchase two microgrid control systems.

“One advantage is that the software is industry-standard,” Gottfried said. “Teaching our students on these industry-grade software systems will significantly improve the skillsets of students going through the renewable energy engineering program and make them more attractive to potential employers following graduation.”

The microgrid control systems —a microgrid control center and a distributed energy resources command center—will be installed in the McMahon Engineering Building on the Alfred University campus and will be used as a training resource. With the increasing installation and integration of renewable distribution energy sources, or DERs, power grids can become stressed and need to be better controlled. Alfred University students will learn how to operate the microgrid control systems, which are used to manage the flow of power through the electrical grid.

“Our unique Renewable Energy Engineering degree program combined with our newly reinvigorated Electrical Engineering program provide the perfect platform for this NYSERDA funded work,” said Gabrielle Gaustad ’04, dean of Alfred University’s Inamori School of Engineering. “Both programs will benefit greatly from the increased access to industrially relevant curriculum and internship opportunities in the utilities industry.”

“Alfred’s renewable energy engineering program has taught students the principles behind various renewable energy technologies, like how to make PV (photovoltaic, or solar) panels, but now the emphasis we’re seeing driven by the industrial and utilities sectors is teaching students how to better control the grid. This is next generation teaching and research.” said John Simmins ’84, PhD ’90, director of the CACT and principal investigator for the project.

“This is hands-on experience, it’s not theory. Students are going to be able to go into the lab and reconfigure the microgrid. It will make them (students) very valuable” as prospective employees in the electric utilities industry,” Simmins added.

“NYSERDA is committed to help train the next generation of clean energy workers so that New York can successfully transition to a thriving, clean energy economy and meet our ambitious climate goals,” said Adele Ferranti, director for Workforce Development and Training at NYSERDA.“NYSERDA is thrilled to provide this funding which will help Alfred University students get the hands-on training they need to hit the ground running when they enter the green workforce.”

Gottfried said the NYSERDA grant will allow the University to subcontract with the EPRI, an independent, non-profit research and development organization, to conduct industry-standard training short courses for students – “another resource that our students wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.”

The courses, Gottfried said, will train students in specific skillsets related to delivering and managing renewable energy resources. With an emphasis on workforce readiness, the courses will prepare students for careers in the renewable energy industry.

Xingwu Wang, professor of electrical engineering in Alfred University’s Inamori School of Engineering is one of four Inamori faculty serving as researchers on the project; the others are renewable energy engineering faculty Jalal Baghdadchi, Dan Lu, and Junpeng Zhan. Wang said the EPRI short courses will also be offered to employees of Avangrid, an energy services and delivery company whose subsidiaries include regional power providers Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) and New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), and other regional electrical utilities.

Wang said energy companies need to provide their workers “smart grid” training, given the increasing use of renewable energy technologies.

“New York State is adding renewable energy to the power grid,” said Wang, noting that the state’s goal is for renewables to provide 70 percent of the power produced in New York. He said the state’s power grid currently uses outdated technology that will make it difficult to reach those goals. Changing to a “smart grid” system of power delivery — which utilizes computerized communication control systems — will better accommodate increases in renewables.

Wang explained that power providers will pay the University to teach employees the short courses, which will help provide long-term funding for the microgrid training program.

Experiential learning opportunities for students will also include a summer internship program in which students at Alfred University work at utilities, renewable energy companies, and other firms serving the sector. The program is funded by the NYSERDA grant monies and private industry and will create 22 internship opportunities over the next three years.

“This will give students valuable experience and prepare them for jobs and will also help us build relationships” with Avangrid and other power companies, Gottfried noted.

“This is the most important project we’ve had since the inception of our renewable energy engineering program,” Simmins said. “The only other institution that has a program like this is the University of Central Florida, one of the largest universities in the country.”

“As a sustainability professional myself, this project is especially exciting to me and reflects the strategic vision and commitment of both the School of Engineering and Alfred University to sustainability efforts both within and outside the classroom,” said Gaustad, whose research has been focused on sustainability issues.

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